Mad Love (Juana la Loca) (Spain, 2001) ***
Directed and written by Vicente Aranda. Produced by Enrique Cerezo. Photography, Paco Femenía. Editing, Teresa Font. Artistic director, Josep Rosell. Music, José Nieto. Cast: Pilar López de Ayala (Joan), Daniele Liotti (Philip), Manuela Arcuri (Aixa), Eloy Azorín (Álvaro de Estuñiga), Rosana Pastor (Elvira) and Giuliano Gemma (De Vere). A Sony Pictures Classics release. In Spanish, with English subtitles 117 minutes. This film is rated R.
It's a biopic, a true story which, to my knowledge, does not take undue liberties with either history or herstory. If it is revisionist in some ways, it is convincing. It's also a pageant that pleases the eye and makes excellent use of Spain's wealth in historical places. It's the work of writer-director Aranda (b. 1926) who, starting in movies when close to 40, has made two dozen films. He is well-known by Hispanic audiences but -more's the pity-rather unfamiliar to the cine-world at large.
Juana (1479-1555) was the third child of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. She was sent, in 1496, to the Spanish dominion of the Netherlands to marry the regent Philip ("Philip the Handsome'), the son of the Austro-German Maximilian I, the Holy Roman Emperor (from 1493 to 1519.) This was a two-way strategic move for all parties involved.
Juana (Pilar Lopez de Ayala) fell madly in love with her husband, played by the Italian Daniele Lotti in the film. She was, according to the paintings I know, beautiful, as is Pilar Lopez. Her first sexual experience entranced her. So it did for Philip, but the man was also a major womanizer with a succession of mistresses. Juana is shown here as a strong-willed woman--which undoubtedly she was-but her love plus jealousy of Philip became an all-consuming obsession. On the death of her mother Isabel, Juana claimed the regency of Castile against her own father (Ferdinand of Aragon.) Philip, his supporters and "camarillas" (cliques) declared Juana mad and took over her powers, but Philip died suddenly. The ever-grieving Juana, now 28, was confined, under guard and to the end of her life, in a monastery.
Juana's pathological love, physical obsession and jealousy of her husband, ever-inflamed by the man's string of infidelities, is the epicenter of the movie, the center being a succession of plots and counterplots, personal as well as political. Even when relatively simplified, the latter (as well as Spanish history) make the politics of today, especially in America, look like the work of choir children. Private and state machinations abound. Yet the film is easy to follow, partly thanks to excellent, clear subtitles, partly because of the first-rate characterizations and performances by a great cast (down to small parts), partly because of the décor, and mostly because of the focus on Juana.
There is a strong (and handsome) component of sex and nudity. This is the new Spain speaking, with a vengeance, in contrast to the puritanical Spain of dictator Francisco Franco (d. 1975).
The picture's Spanish title is simple and clear. The Anglo title "Mad Love" cuts two ways, as it refers both to literal madness and to the Surrealists' "L'amour fou," both of which, when last seen, were in Francois Truffaut's "The Story of Adele.H."
To avoid confusion. "Mad Love" was a classic, 1935 horror film with Peter Lorre as the mad scientist who grafts a dead killer's hands on a pianist whose wife Lorre covets. It was directed by the great-plus cinematographer (Germany, Hollywood) Karl Freund Freund had previously made "The Mummy" (1932), starring Boris Karloff. Those two works were respectively the best, as well as the last and first works (out of eight) that Freund directed. None of the eight gives him credits for photography - although his presence is felt throughout. Before "The Mummy" he had shot Tod Browning's "Dracula"(1931), starring Bela Lugosi, the first of the unending succession of Dracula pictures.